Wellington Scoop

An earthquake-size over-reaction

The DomPost over-reacted this morning with its decision to use an earthquake-size front-page banner headline, and almost all its front page, for the report that police are inquiring into a complaint against MP Darren Hughes.

Not only a headline the same size as it was using for the earthquakes and misery in Christchurch and Japan, but one in which the first words are hysterically-meaningless: MP sex claim. In the first sentence, the “sex claim” has been transmuted to “a teenage boy’s sex complaint.” In the eighth paragraph it has become “the incident.” In the newspaper’s revised online version tonight it has been toned down – it’s now “the alleged incident.”

The report chooses to repeat one of its unsourced claims about the MP in case we didn’t notice it the first time. In the third paragraph: “It is understood he has already been interviewed more than once by police.” In the eleventh paragraph: “Police are understood to have interviewed Mr Hughes several times.”

The paper claims that police have spoken to “a large number of people.” But the report gives no evidence of this. The reverse, in fact. It tells us that an Establishment spokesperson was not aware of police being in touch. It quotes National MP Simon Bridges, who was with the group that included Darren Hughes, as saying he had not been interviewed by police.

The Dominion Post implies that it knows everything about the 18-year-old complainant. It has contacted his parents who “declined to comment.” It reports that a close source “said he was bearing up well,” a statement which could be taken as conveying a burden of innuendo. There’s a different version in the New Zealand Herald, which quotes Seb Templeton, the president of the Victoria University Debating Society, as saying the complainant is just getting on with life. “He seems fine. I haven’t talked to him about it. I don’t think many people have … I can honestly say he hasn’t told any of us what the allegations are.” A student who didn’t want to be named told the Herald that the complainant was keeping up “his usual, confident personality.”

The Herald does, however, have an angle which the DomPost didn’t cover. It reports that Labour leader Phil Goff has admitted he was wrong to call for the Prime Minister to sack MP Richard Worth soon after a police complaint was made against him. Mr Goff said he had now learned some things about the complexity of such situations. “I’m going to be the first to admit I was wrong in the judgment I made at that time. People are entitled to be regarded as innocent until they are proven guilty. I believe I got it wrong, in hindsight, yes.”

The facts so far: statements from the police and the MP

Associate Professor Andrew Geddis: We just don’t know what happened

Former Kapiti deputy mayor defends hard-working MP

March 25: The DomPost keeps up its pressure with an online Stuff headline saying “sex scandal” which it later modifies to “scandal”. Though deleting sex from the headline, it uses the word in the first and the second sentences of its report that the MP has resigned.


  1. Kat Mason, 25. March 2011, 19:42

    Couldn’t agree more…Get a grip guys!!

  2. londoner, 27. March 2011, 9:25

    It’s bizarre how media people are interested in the details of other’s sexual lives.